Marshall County, including the staff of the Marshall County Tribune, mourned the death of one of the county's great characters and the newspaper's longest-running columnist.
Ruth Hastings, 90, died at her home Sunday morning. Her last column was delivered to the Tribune office in time to appear in the Christmas paper, and no one guessed that there would never be another one.
There were few outward signs that Hastings was not in good health: she complained of failing eyesight, and added "the Lord willing" more often when she described plans for next year. For the first time in living memory, she sat back in her recliner and allowed her daughters to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
When she wasn't out and about, she was at home - in the garden or the kitchen. Even in the year that included her 90th birthday, Ruth Hastings "put up" over 300 jars of assorted treats that were prized by her customers.
"She'd can everything she could get her hands on," said long-time friend Gwen Green. "She's canned pickles, preserves and relish, mostly. She made a lot of tomato relish and she shared it with lots of people."
Hastings was generous with her praise and gentle with her criticism. She had a wondrous work ethic and was sustained by her faith.
"She was a very, very religious lady," said Green. They used to see each other at Green's church, Ostella Church of Christ, when the Hastings would come for revivals.
Particularly touching was what she wrote in her column the last week of July, talking about Bro. James Cullins preaching at the Catalpa Gospel Meeting. The last time Bro. Cullins had preached at Catalpa was three years ago, and Mrs. Hastings wrote, "In 2006, Doyle had not been so well, but he attended every night. On Aug. 13, he had a stroke and left us. I am so glad he got to hear Bro. Cullins that last Gospel Meeting."
Ever since I moved to Marshall County in the early '90s, I have been reading "Catalpa News." Many readers felt like they knew the Hastings family and their friends. They knew where find them: Sundays and Wednesdays at the Catalpa Church of Christ and at any Church of Christ in Marshall County that was holding a revival, a gospel meeting, a singing, or a Ladies' Day. For entertainment, the Hastings family liked the Pickin'n'Grinnin' at the Petersburg Town Hall, and any appearance by Boys Down the Road. They never missed a Diana Singing.
Hastings took a regular turn at Tate's Store in Belfast, and was a faithful supporter of the Petersburg FCE Club and the community library.
About the relationship between Ruth and Doyle, Green commented, "They were very dedicated, and loved each other very much."
Now, after less than four years, they are together again - forever.